Author's Notes: I was always intending to post this, but not for a while (until I finished the fourth part); I decided to go ahead with it, though, since it can stand alone. If this is suddenly showing up as new material (it shouldn't, I don't think) please note that this is a cleanup and not a brand-new post—keep in mind that this work is from 2007, so what applies as of 2013 may not have applied then. At the time, there were three popular but unproven rumors which I made use of here: that Tobi is Obito, that Akatsuki's leader is the Fourth, and that the Fourth is Naruto's father. Enjoy!
Title: Timeserver (part one of the Timespan triad from the Timesaver quadrilogy)
Author: Reaper Nanashi (Lady Shinigami)
Pairing: MinaKushi (in passing)
Word Count: 7,809 (Total: 7,809)
Type: One-shot (Complete)
Rating: T (bad words, blood, violence)
Date Submitted: 7/22/07 (Cleanup: 1/5/13)
Disclaimer: I can dream, can't I?
Claimer: The Time-related stuff, except for the one technique, which you'll recognize as soon as you read it.
Summary: The opportunity to confront the leader of Akatsuki has arrived and Naruto and Kakashi are in for a battle they had never expected. Time is not on their side.
The Reasoning Behind It: So I was a little behind on my Naruto information, and when I stopped at a Yondaime LJ community I occasionally visited, I found all these people tossing out theories—they were only theories, however, not known fact—as to how the Fourth might be the leader of Akatsuki. I saw no way that this could be possible, but I somehow decided that since I didn't believe it, I had to write the exact opposite and find a way to actually make it at least half plausible (Haha! Fear ze logic!). Thus I present you with this odd little gem; whether it's polished or tarnished is up to you.
Timeserver – noun – opportunist: somebody whose opinions and behavior change to suit the times and circumstances without regard for principle
Naruto increased his speed as he heard the sounds of a great battle fall silent. There was an arching doorway ahead, pure blackness beyond, but he plowed into it fearlessly or—depending on who was asked—stupidly. He drew to a sharp stop when he realized the darkness had been a ruse—the large chamber he had entered was actually lit by massive torches that were suspended from the ceiling on heavy spiked chains. Before him was a large and very ugly wooden statue with nine closed eyes and bound hands. To his left was Kakashi, chained to the wall so he could not perform any techniques, and his mask had been pulled down so he could be gagged. With the situation at hand, though, finally seeing his teacher's face was easily the last thing on Naruto's mind. With no goal except helping an ally and a precious person, he started to run to the jounin, who had no serious injuries he could see but was still badly bruised and unconscious. It was a startling sight—Naruto rarely saw him that way.
"I wouldn't do that," a cool voice said smoothly.
Naruto skidded to a halt and whirled angrily. It took him a moment to locate the speaker, who was standing curiously still in the unnaturally dark shadow of one of the massive wooden statue's upraised hands. By the odd and only vaguely human shape of the silhouette, it was easy to see that the speaker was with Akatsuki. "Fuck you!" he spat, and turned to continue toward his teacher.
"I was told you might feel that way."
Even though a considerable distance had been between him and the Akatsuki member, he did not have time to do anything but shift his weight to his other foot; abruptly in front of him was the familiar coat of a night sky bearing clouds reflecting a dawn light. He reeled back to dodge as he saw the man draw one arm back to punch him, but by the time he blinked he could feel knuckles forcing shards of his freshly-shattered nose deep into his face. He was flung swiftly across the chamber and would have gone on for a while longer, surely, if the wall had not been there. A pointed portion of rock dug into his spine ruthlessly until he collapsed to the floor. He coughed to try to regain his stolen breath and spit out a mouthful of blood.
"Will you listen now?" the man asked mildly.
Naruto looked past him at Kakashi, who was showing signs of returning to consciousness, then refocused on the man and snarled. "Bastard . . ."
"I assure you," was the reply, "I'm of quite legitimate heritage."
Naruto growled and lunged to his feet. The Akatsuki member did not flinch at his furious approach, but an instant before he struck he felt a strange backward pull on his whole body. The next thing he knew the man was a step to the right. He staggered and came around for a renewed strike, but he was unbalanced and the man kicked him away. His impact with the wall was much harder the second time, as the wall was a different one and far nearer.
"You're welcome to listen at any point," the man informed him.
Naruto looked over at Kakashi again. The platinum-haired jounin was looking at him, left eye closed to keep Sharingan-inspired exhaustion at bay a little longer, and the steady gaze was enough of a command. Naruto glared at the Akatsuki member. ". . . Fine! Spit it out so I can kick your ass!"
The man, unimpressed by the threat, lowered his head slightly as he lifted his right hand to remove his kasa. All that Naruto could see at first was spiky reddish hair, but Kakashi's wide eyes and shocked jerk backward caused him to become very anxious about the man's appearance. "Kakashi," the man offered in polite greeting, "I'm glad you're doing well. I've heard rumors, of course, but I wanted to see for myself."
The kasa was fully removed and the man turned to Naruto, who felt his jaw drop in disbelief at the sight of strangely familiar blue eyes set in an even more recognizable face. The hair was different, just a little, but the face was very much the same as what he had seen on the Monument and in various pictures throughout Konoha. "N . . . No way . . . You . . . You're dead . . ."
"The Yondaime Hokage is dead," the man acknowledged, "but I am not."
"If you're not the Yondaime Hokage, then who the hell are you?!" Naruto demanded.
"A man who lost everything in one night," the man answered. "Nothing more."
"Bullshit!" Naruto barked heatedly, and the man blinked. "A lot of people lose like that and they don't turn into murderers! They get over it!"
"No, they don't," the man corrected calmly. "They simply choose to not do anything about it." Naruto glared, confused, and the man explained, "They don't know whom to attack. Or if they do, they're either too weak or too afraid—or both—to dare it. I am neither weak nor afraid, and I know exactly whom I need to attack."
"Then why not do it?!"
"I am." The man turned away and looked up at the statue. "I've been researching for years and recruiting some of the brightest minds the world can offer. It's taken this long—all of your life so far—but I'm almost ready to declare victory." He looked back at Naruto and his gaze fell to the genin's stomach.
Naruto growled and covered with one hand the seal that kept the kyuubi in him. "And?" he prodded. "What about when you win? What kind of life are you going to enjoy then, after you've dedicated so much time and effort to this . . . whatever this is?"
The man turned fully to him. "Me?" He chuckled softly. "I'm not doing this for my life." Naruto opened his mouth to contradict him, but before he could actually speak the man quietly added, "I'm doing it for yours."
Naruto gaped. "Mine? What the hell . . .?"
"I wanted them to accept you," the man replied. "Honor you. But I knew they wouldn't. They would be much too scared and angry to bother with the effort. I asked Sandaime-sama to watch over you in my absence and did what I had not had time for before—researched extraction and sealing techniques."
Naruto snarled. "So you can kill me like you did Gaara? You think that's something you'll be doing for the sake of my life, asshole?!"
The man's eyes flickered with some emotion, but it had been so quick it was impossible to make out. "Your friend dealt with an unfortunate mistake, as did the vessel of the nibi. We're missing one member, you see, and thus the control required from each of us performing the jutsu has changed. It has taken us some time to rediscover the necessary balance." He looked at Naruto calmly. "I don't want to kill you and I didn't want to kill your friend. The imperfection has been rectified—extracting the kyuubi won't be painless, but you won't die."
Naruto looked hard at the man who had at one time been the Fourth Hokage. Though he had been warned that the seal was weakening and the kyuubi's power was taking over, Naruto was not worried about that in the face of what Akatsuki would do with the huge bijuu if they possessed the great fox's spirit. He told the man that, though not nearly as politely as he had thought it, and was shocked beyond belief when the man smiled not in an evil way, but in a soft and proud way.
"That's good," he said. "I'm glad you want to protect others. That's how I wanted you to grow up."
Naruto was quiet, baffled. It was difficult to taunt and backtalk someone who was both apparently unaffected by it on top of lacking in such ego that his intentions could not be bruised and offended. Naruto had also expected there to be evil laughter and verbal aggression, but there had never been any of those even when the man had been beating him around. And the physical aggression itself had been more self-defense than any negative feelings; the man had not derived any obvious pleasure from hitting him despite clearly having the upper hand, and once he decided to listen the man had made no further motion to attack.
Kakashi made some noise, muffled by his gag, and the once-Hokage walked to him and removed the cloth, though the jounin's mask was left down in case the gag would need to be reapplied later. "Sorry about that."
"How . . .? Why . . .?"
"I assume 'how' is how I survived. I used a shadow clone to perform the sealing, and I had to lie low after I put so much chakra into it. Actually, we all thought I was going to die, but I didn't." He flicked at a lock of his red hair. "This is just dyed and trimmed so the others don't figure out who I am too quickly. I did want to tell you I was alive, but I also decided I had to correct my mistake and Sandaime-sama said it might be better if, rather than learning I was alive only to know that I was leaving, you simply believed I was dead. I didn't and don't like that, but I do think that it was easiest on you, even if you disagree. As for 'why,' I already explained that. It's for him."
"I didn't ask you to do this!" Naruto barked angrily.
The man straightened and turned to him. "Nor did I ask your permission when I sealed the kyuubi inside you. I don't see the difference."
Suddenly, a young man with an odd orange mask that shielded his whole face from view appeared next to the Fourth, who inclined his head as the new arrival whispered to him. He then said, "I see. Tell them I'm finishing my preparations and will be summoning them shortly. And if they make any protests, Tobi, tell them I don't want to be bothered about it again or I'll kill whoever dares it." The masked man offered an exaggerated salute and the Fourth reached out to smack the back of his head. "Don't disrespect me, you little newbie punk."
The young man danced away, apparently quite entertained, but paused when he noticed Kakashi. Instantly, he stopped and wiggled his fingers in greeting. Though Naruto thought the man was just mocking and being foolish, Kakashi had a completely different reaction. Looking as though he were just on the verge of passing out from shock, he asked weakly, ". . . Obito . . .?"
The masked man jerked back as though burned and quickly vanished. Desperately, Kakashi looked to the once-Hokage for confirmation. The reply was somewhat vague, but not so vague as to be indecipherable. "He was in Hidden Grass. He had near-total amnesia when I found him, but he's been recalling little things here and there since then." A pause. "He was very glad when I told him that you were all right."
". . . But he—"
"He's highly self-conscious about his appearance; you won't be able to get him to take that mask off. I barely can, and only on his 'good days'—whatever constitutes such a thing in his mind."
Kakashi looked at the floor and the Fourth snapped, "Don't do that." Kakashi looked up promptly, startled. "Don't pity him or me or yourself, and don't you dare think there was anything more you could have done. Even though you were skilled then, you didn't have the experience. You can't compare who you are at this moment to who you were then and pretend there was a better option. You weren't ready to face that at that time and you wouldn't be much better able to face a scenario that is proportionately larger and more dangerous at this time. There will always be someone or something out there that is greater than you, no matter how hard you train, and all you can do is try to prepare and do the best you can to survive if you can't win. I found that out the hard way. There's nothing you can do about the past, so live for who and what you have, not what you lost."
Chastised and feeling like he was five years old all over again, Kakashi nodded meekly.
"He has his orders," the once-Hokage concluded, much more gently, "and if he trusts me like he pretends he does, he'll find you eventually."
"Hypocrite!" Naruto shouted, wrathful.
The Fourth turned to him. "Beg your pardon?"
"You!" Naruto accused sharply. "You tell Kakashi-sensei he can't go back in time and fix something he feels responsible for, yet you are trying to do the same thing with me!"
The once-Hokage was not impressed. "Except that Kakashi can't go back in time. I can."
Kakashi's mouth opened and shut several times. ". . . No . . ."
The Fourth snorted softly. "The Hiraishin wasn't about speed, Kakashi—it never was. It was always about time. Until I learned to harness it on my own, I had to use those seals to distort the boundaries of Time for me." He shrugged slowly. "It was the family bloodline, so such assistance was available for heirs."
"Bloodline . . .?" Kakashi murmured, shocked. "Kekkei genkai?"
The Fourth held up a small pocket watch that was operating normally, one of his fingers stuck though the loop at the top and all of them spread out to prove that he was not meddling with it. His hand began to glow with released chakra and at first there was no change, but then the watch's hands began to move faster and whirl clockwise madly, as if trying to break loose from their small container. They suddenly stopped, without even slowing down first, and then reversed direction. When they came to a stop a second time, he tucked the thing back into his sleeve. "It's a dangerous ability many covet without even knowing it actually exists. Why do you think the others respect my power? It would only take a moment to reverse time and kill them if they betrayed me."
Several minutes of silence followed that acknowledgement.
". . . I don't get it," Naruto said finally, and both men looked at him. "What difference does it make what happens to me anymore?" His hands fisted angrily. "You did your job—why pick the scab?"
The Fourth gazed at him blankly, then turned to Kakashi. "I believe I'm missing some critical information."
"The Third said no," Kakashi explained softly. "He said it was safer for him."
Naruto looked between them, clearly suspicious.
The Fourth frowned, then mused, "It may indeed be. That will be . . . helpful."
He blinked out and reappeared in front of Naruto, who took a startled step back. "Wha . . .?"
"That is the mastered Hiraishin," the Fourth informed him. "If you're standing still when I slow your time, you can't feel the pull. If I speed up my own time, I achieve the same effect but you feel nothing whether or not you're moving. It is considerably simpler and less taxing, though, to slow your time rather than speed up my own, since it is easier to recreate the past than build the future. Its true name is Kokontouzai."
Naruto took another step back. "Why are you . . .?"
The once-Hokage offered him another kind, very much not evil smile. He lifted his hand. With the distance between them and the man's skills with Time, Naruto's first and only instinct at that point was to prepare for a blow, but instead the tip of a finger ran lightly down his nose. "You have your mother's nose—that's good." Naruto stared up at him, shocked, and he tapped the pins in his own. "Mine was always somewhat crooked and I only realized that I had the time to fix it recently." Absently, he added, "Hurts like a bitch, too . . ."
Without thinking Naruto grabbed the Fourth's coat, stuck on the first sentence. "You know my mother?"
"Knew, yes," was the quiet correction. "She was quite a patriot—the kyuubi killed her because she tried to fight him less than an hour after she gave birth to you." Naruto blinked at that news, astonished, and the once-Hokage added, "Everyone in Konoha, in one way or another, is a victim of the kyuubi. Many lost siblings, many lost children, many lost parents. You were most affected by that event, over everyone else. Never let them tell you that you are the cause, or that you're living easily thanks to someone's charity."
"You're a little late, old man," Naruto snarled. "I know that already."
"No, you don't," was the calm contradiction. "If you did, then you'd know far more things about who you are than you do."
"What the hell do you know?!"
"I know you pretend you don't hear their words, yet you later take those words into your heart and dwell on them until you become angry."
Naruto glared—he hated being analyzed—but he was shaken. "How the hell . . .?"
"Even as the leader of Akatsuki I've had some free time with which to do whatever I may choose, to follow whomever I may desire."
Naruto bared his teeth, furious that he had been spied on his whole life, and even more so that such a life had been allowed to continue by the very person who had asked for it to be better. He lifted a threatening fist. "I am going to kick—your—ass, you prick."
The Fourth looked at him blankly, eyes flat and mouth twisted to the side in a plainly unexcited way. "Do you enjoy pain that much?"
"Ask me again after you're pulp."
"Don't be stupid, Naruto," Kakashi warned. "You're at an extreme disadvantage. It's not worth the fight. If you're going to do anything, leave."
Naruto turned to him and glared, his blood hot with fury at the past minutes' interaction. "Run?! Don't give me that, you traitor! I—!"
The once-Hokage took the advantage presented and silenced him with a careful strike to the neck. He caught the blond's body as it collapsed. "Talks an awful lot, doesn't he?"
"Almost constantly," Kakashi acknowledged, craning to try to make sure his student was still all right, "if he thinks he has someone to impress."
The Fourth looked over at him. "Should I show him to you?"
"Yes," Kakashi decided stubbornly.
So the Fourth patiently gathered up Naruto's limp body and carried him to where Kakashi was chained to the chamber wall. "There. See? Now, I'm going to place him by the statue and call the others. There'll probably be an uproar if they realize you're conscious, so you can either act like you're unconscious or I can hit you again. It'll take three days, so you'll probably get bored after a while."
"I'll be fine," Kakashi decided firmly, unmoved by the idea of boredom. If something happened, after all, there might have to be an undoing of whatever had been done and Kakashi wanted to know what had been done so he could make the attempt to undo it.
"Very well." The Fourth collected Naruto again, his motions cautious and gentle. He placed the teenager on the cold damp floor between the wooden statue's hands, flickered away, then reappeared as a quasi-specter. He made a sign with his hand and seconds later the other members of Akatsuki appeared, all in the same state as their leader. Kakashi kept his head low until he was sure they were busy with the extraction, then lifted it enough that he could see the chamber through his lashes. He wanted to use the Sharingan to get details on the technique being used, but did not dare; he had no doubt that it would draw Itachi's attention, if no one else's. Besides, he had heard the name of it and could try researching it from there.
The three days passed by with excruciating slowness. As far as Kakashi was concerned, the worst part was not the boredom but the urgent thirst and gnawing hunger that came with it. It was incredibly trying to his patience and sanity, but he decided that if Akatsuki had done it several times before and not died, then it would be a good test for him to withstand similar torture. Going without sustenance at all for three days was hard on the body, but not entirely impossible to do, particularly since he was not moving a lot.
Naruto, though . . .
Naruto was in pain. His face twitched constantly and occasionally his unconscious form would writhe. He was sweating, too—losing valuable hydration. Kakashi watched and worried, wondering not for the first time if his teacher was really still trustworthy.
There was a sudden, great roar of chakra. Naruto arched backward sharply and let out an involuntary cry of agony. In a powerful burst and a violent swirl of red chakra, the kyuubi's soul was drawn from his body and into the statue's mouth. The isolated center eye flared to life and the pupil blinked open. Naruto, no longer suspended by the strange technique's power, connected hard with the floor and was still. Unable to risk being caught awake, Kakashi put aside trying to decide Naruto's health and lowered his head to feign unconsciousness. It was a good thing that he had, because the next thing he heard was the voice of one of the subordinate Akatsuki members.
"What about them?"
His teacher's voice echoed in the chamber, its flat coldness unfamiliar and somewhat frightening to even his experienced ears. "They're mine." Kakashi kept his head down for nearly ten minutes thereafter. It was around then that he heard a swirl of chakra and a calm and more friendly, "You may raise your head now."
He did so carefully and observed as the Fourth lifted Naruto from the floor and offered a bottle of water. Even unconscious, Naruto was undoubtedly so thirsty that he drank it automatically. The blond flinched against some pain, then began to gasp.
"Oh damn," the Fourth murmured. "I didn't want that."
Before Kakashi could ask what exactly 'that' was, Naruto's back arched inward and he let out a cry of pain, arms flailing to protect himself from an invisible enemy. The Fourth held him tightly as he convulsed and Naruto alternately clawed at and embraced him, wanting to push him away defensively until it was possible to identify him but just as often in so much pain that he needed the support the once-Hokage's grasp offered.
"Shh," the Fourth urged, stroking Naruto's hair with one hand, his face falling with sadness when he saw the tears on the boy's face. "Hold on. I promise it'll be over soon."
Within a couple of minutes the convulsions eased and Naruto's eyes fluttered open. They were unfocused and glazed over with pain and fatigue—he probably still had no idea who was bracing him. ". . . Water . . ."
The Fourth provided instantly, vigilantly controlling how much Naruto drank at one time so he would not choke. "I haven't forgotten about you, Kakashi. This is just going to take a bit longer than I'd intended."
"I'm fine," Kakashi replied, even though his tongue burned with dryness.
The once-Hokage grimaced, apparently hearing the lie. ". . . Damn it . . ." He vanished and then reappeared just half a second later, before Naruto could fall very far. "Just a minute, Kakashi."
Kakashi was about to repeat himself when an Akatsuki coat appeared in front of him. He looked up to find Obito, or rather, Tobi—his missing memories did make him someone else, if only slightly—holding a big bottle of water and a ration bar. Tobi knelt down and set the rations aside to open the water bottle, which he held for Kakashi to drink. The water could have been poisoned or otherwise tainted—there was still no telling if either of them was truly trustworthy—but Kakashi was too starved to care and his default response was to trust both of them anyway. When he finished, Tobi slowly fed the rations to him. It tasted like cardboard, as field rations always had, but it did have calories and other important things that would keep him alive a while longer.
"Thanks," he murmured, and Tobi nodded.
A rumble sounded through the room and for a moment it was followed by silence.
"What in the . . ." the Fourth said from his place nearly halfway across the chamber. "The acoustics in here are terrible and I still heard that. Haven't you eaten at all?"
One of Tobi's hands went to his stomach and the other disappeared behind his head. He nodded timidly in confirmation.
"Well go eat more. Kakashi will be fine for now."
Tobi disappeared with the water bottle and ration bar wrapper and then returned with the refilled bottle and a new ration bar. He set both items by Kakashi and then, to the jounin's shock, drew a tiny bottle of pancake syrup from his coat and set it down as well. Kakashi stared at it with strangled happiness, taking it as a sign that perhaps Tobi and Obito were not so different.
It had been a sort of team joke—started as a true and honest complaint by Obito, of course, and which Rin had soon picked up on—about the tastelessness of the ration bars. Kakashi had secretly agreed despite his snort of derision, and the Fourth had chuckled his concurrence as he crunched his way through his own with the tolerance, as Kakashi would find out after long years of eating them himself, and acceptance of knowing there was no better option. Obito had then reeled off a list of condiments that he thought would make a ration bar taste more appealing, starting with ketchup and ending with syrup. In the next village, to shut him up, Kakashi had quietly purchased a travel-size bottle of syrup and presented it—rather, had thrown it at his teammate's head—the next time Obito began to whine. Instead of being annoyed for being taken so seriously, Obito had been delighted and promptly shared the sweet treat with everyone, including young platinum-haired geniuses who had not wanted sticky, drippy syrup on their rations. It was such a hit that "We need syrup," quickly became team code for, 'We need to improve this situation.'
"Thanks," Kakashi murmured again, unsure of what else to say or do.
Fortunately, Obito—Tobi—was not socially disconnected despite his injury, and hugged him with startling warmth. The surprise did not last very long, though. Knowing it was Obito behind the mask and having not had his defensive side provoked, Kakashi's first reaction was not to fight back but to instead return the gesture, which he had wanted to do for years after he had believed it to be too late. For the effort, his wrists received sharp discipline from the chains that bound him, sadly, and all her could do was squeeze the other's shoulder with his chin. Tobi seemed pleased by the gesture, though, which he conveyed by patting Kakashi on the head affectionately. It was something Obito had done long ago to emphasize their difference in height even though it was Kakashi's age that had proven him to be a better shinobi at first.
Once Tobi was gone, the Fourth explained as he tended to a half-conscious Naruto, "I'd let you loose, but you'd only hover and we all need space right now."
Kakashi took mild offense at that—mild because after all he had endured during his life it was actually the truth—and waited. Naruto was still propped against the Fourth's chest, cradled in the once-Hokage's gentle grip so he would not fall. "How is he?"
"Still weak." The Fourth shook his head at that. "He'll be this way for a few more hours yet. After that he'll be able to walk and act the same as before, but his chakra paths will need to be kept stagnant for a couple of months." He looked up. "You'll have to watch out for him until he learns his limits, Kakashi. Without the kyuubi's power, he won't heal nearly as quickly as he used to, though I imagine he would still heal faster than you or me."
"At least for a time, the kyuubi's chakra will taint his own. It may eventually be used up, or it may be parasitic and perpetuate itself for the rest of his life by mutating various portions of his chakra. I don't really know and I can't hypothesize—this has never been done before."
Kakashi was crushed by a swell of concern for his favorite delinquent. "How do you know it won't kill him anyway, then?"
The Fourth sighed. "I've seen it. He at least survives to be nineteen."
"You can see the future?"
"Kokugen," was the patient response. "Past or present, if I choose a person and a hypothetical situation I can see thousands of possible outcomes, though nothing definitive—no hows or whys. I take an average of those things I see to decide which is most likely to occur."
Kakashi did not like his teacher's expression. Wanting to know but not wanting to say anything accusatory for the time being, he asked, "And?"
The once-Hokage absently ran the backs of two fingers along Naruto's cheek, then looked up. "I am going to disband Akatsuki once the bijuu are gone, Kakashi, and then try to stop myself from sealing the kyuubi into Naruto. It will be the only chance at a normal life that he will ever have and I'll need all of my chakra to attempt it. I don't know if I'll ever be able to return, so I ask that you never allow Akatsuki, in any form, to reorganize. If given just a hint of leeway, they'll take revenge on the jinchuuriki for their failed ideals."
"I only ever said I wanted the bijuu, but they have twisted that to suit themselves." He shook his head. "It was my error, to be so involved in this that I didn't control them better, but trying to correct them at this point would be useless. I'd have to kill them, but for now I still need them, and I couldn't take them all on at once anyway."
"How can you be sure? Why can't you just slow time?"
"It's not that simple. Slowing the time of seven individuals simultaneously would be too draining. I would have to use a mid- to far-range area-based technique—rather than a short-range individual-based one—to sustain the reduction for any useful length of time, which would mean I couldn't have someone assist me or that person would be affected as well. Increasing my own time would cost me nearly as much." He sighed heavily. "Sealing the kyuubi with the shadow clone stripped me of half of everything I once was, including my soul. Though I've learned many new things since then, including how to balance what chakra I can produce, I can't deal with Akatsuki in the way I'm sure you undoubtedly remember me doing with others in the past. Employing the seal tags that I once utilized would take years of intense study and coordination for such a specialized task, and even at full strength I could never have slowed the world's time for more than forty-five seconds. Now it would be fewer than thirteen."
He shook his head again. "I need help, Kakashi. Even without the kyuubi, Naruto's skill with Time will be stronger than mine if he trains himself properly. I know he won't listen to me, but I think he'll listen to you. If you can encourage him so that he learns just three-quarters of what makes a master of Time, anyone from Akatsuki who seeks revenge will be no threat to him if he fights intelligently. But if you can't get him to try, his chances of survival will be only thirty percent. He's lucky, but it can only carry him so far."
Naruto flinched and groaned quietly, his body tensing against the pain he was still feeling. The Fourth bent over him, crooning softly, and after a moment he relaxed.
"Where is all this information?" Kakashi demanded. "You can't expect me to know it if it's a kekkei genkai."
The Fourth tossed an advanced training shuriken at him. Threaded through the center hole was a string, which was tied to a folded piece of paper. There was no way for him to dodge it, but its rotation was not fast so he took the risk and caught it in his teeth, which immediately began to ache in protest. "The instructions are there."
With a considerable amount of imaginative shifting and contortion, Kakashi managed to tuck the shuriken into the collar of his flak jacket. "You knew I would help?"
The Fourth shook his head a third time. "I didn't expect anything—I couldn't. You're a bit of a wild card, Kakashi, and it's been entertaining to try to figure out what sets you apart from everyone else. You're just as likely to pretend to agree with me—and then hide everything from Naruto under the impression that I'm lying—as you are to agree with me in earnest. At this point I still don't know which you will choose; the future is never set in stone and it's quite possible that something will cause you to reject my request, though I pray desperately otherwise. I may control Time, but I can't control you. And even if I could do that, there's still Naruto's will to consider. If you do accept me, he may still reject me. If I could control you I could never control him—his blood offers a natural resistance to anyone trying to tamper with his time. I've been able to get around that today, but only because he has no experience."
The scenario was practically unreal to Kakashi, first finding out his best friend as well as his teacher—both mourned as dead—were actually alive, and then coming to the distinctly painful conclusion that he had known far less about his teacher than he had, in hindsight, rather arrogantly assumed.
"Whether you choose to side with me one more time or finally go against me, Kakashi," the once-Hokage concluded, absently shifting his arm and center of balance as Naruto began to struggle toward consciousness, "I'll hold no grudge. All I ask is that you make your choice based on what you feel is best for Naruto's future, and not attempt to strike at me through him. I know you know he's not involved in this, and any anger you carry is not a burden you have a right to force on him."
Kakashi nodded obediently as Naruto blinked himself awake, then threw himself from the Fourth's gentle and unrestricting grasp with a yelp. The jounin did not fail to notice—though it was hidden well—his teacher's twinge of pain at the fresh rejection. "I understand."
With Naruto moving about freely, the Fourth crossed the chamber to where Kakashi was chained and freed him. Voice hard with suppressed hurt as he watched the younger blond scowl at him, the once-Hokage announced, "If that's true, then I have no further need of either of you—you may both go."
"Obito?" Kakashi blurted as he massaged his wrists and then his shoulders.
"I told you, Kakashi, that he has his orders. Know, however, that should he seek you out, I have indeed died or am otherwise irretrievable. He'll need you, in my place, to help him regain his memories. Do not push him to show his face—he will do it eventually, when he knows you won't feel guilty."
"How can I not?!"
"He didn't have to save your life at the risk of his own, Kakashi," was the response, "but he chose to because you are important to him. He knows that. It was his choice to make, and thus his disfigurement is of his own doing. He does not blame you now—he never did—and has no idea what to do or say if you blame yourself. He will behave shyly if he finds you, and how normally you treat him will decide how and when he removes his mask. Do you understand, Kakashi? The importance of appointing blame correctly?"
Kakashi looked chastised, and glanced briefly over to Naruto. There was blame incorrectly placed, without question. "Yes."
Kakashi grimaced, but amended, "Yes, sensei."
"That wasn't what I meant, but all right."
Naruto twitched. "Sensei?! You're kidding, right?"
The once-Hokage chuckled, but not in a mean way. "Someone had to help him refine the basic techniques and teach him more complex ones, correct?"
"Yeah, but . . . you?"
The Fourth inclined his head and smiled in bemusement. "I'm not sure I follow. Even if you think I'm evil incarnate, you must realize my strength."
Naruto snarled silently, gaze harsh, and bit out firmly, "I don't."
The Fourth blinked. "Are you trying to pick a fight with me?"
"Yes," Kakashi confirmed with a sigh. "He's not all that bright about taking care with whom he offends."
Naruto snarled audibly at being undermined. "Damn it, Kakashi-sensei, whose side are you on?!"
The Fourth blinked again, and then the chamber resounded with happy laughter. When he calmed down, he said, "What familiar behavior! No wonder you get into so many fights!"
Naruto frowned. "What the hell's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that you bite off a bit more than you can chew, knowing nothing about who your opponent is or what his capabilities are. Your strength is rare, though, so you almost always win those indiscriminate battles."
Naruto, frustrated, correctly assumed that Kakashi would stop him if he attacked the other man again. He poked out his tongue, but regretted it when the once-Hokage grabbed it.
"Be careful about which parts of yourself you choose to stick out at a given moment," the Fourth advised. "Or you may just lose them."
Naruto tried to chomp down on the Fourth's fingers, but the other was faster and moved to pull him closer instead. Drawn off balance, he staggered into the once-Hokage's cloaked body and was carefully embraced. He tried to twist and break free, unsure of what pain was going to be wrought on him for his unwariness, but when he attempted to move his whole body was in an inexplicable state of sluggishness. It only took a brief moment for him to realize the Fourth had slowed the passage of Naruto's time, and though he kept attempting violently to speed his own motion up, the Fourth calmly cradled his head and back and hugged him. There was no other term for such a gentle restraint.
When he got his head thrown back at last he saw the Fourth—who appeared to be on the worn side—looking at Kakashi. "Are you that trusting or still in shock?"
". . . Little of both," Kakashi confessed. "If I thought you really wanted to hurt him, I wouldn't be standing here like this."
The Fourth smiled. "Good. By the way, thank you for watching over him all this time. I'd be very grateful if you'd pass along my thanks to the old perv." He gazed at Naruto, who stared back at the still-familiar eyes of blue, then dropped his head and pressed a kiss to the stunned blond's forehead. "You should go home now so I can deal with the bijuu safely."
In an instant, Naruto and Kakashi found themselves standing side by side right in front of the chamber exit. They looked at one another, perplexed, having experienced the mastered Hiraishin for the first time. Kakashi started to turn to look at the chamber, but froze obediently at a sharp and angry, "No." Seconds later, however, the same voice said in an entirely different tone, "Naruto."
Naruto turned obediently, surprised. No one had ever said his name quite like that—the way it rolled so easily off the tongue, as though the person speaking it had practiced for years to get it perfect. It was achingly familiar, but not personally so. He had heard such a tone used hundreds of thousands of times, when a parent called to a child either in admonition or praise or conversation, but it had never been used for him; even Iruka had never mastered the tone. Shocked, the most brilliant reply he could offer was a vacant, "Huh?"
The Fourth Hokage, the revered savior of Konoha who had voluntarily become a symbol of evil intention for the opportunity to destroy the bijuu, tilted his head. "Practice the Hiraishin as well as the other techniques in the clan's secret scrolls. The kyuubi's presence has left its mark in you—your chakra reserves will always be great. Learn to use it well and harness Time, for that will be the best replacement in speed and strength for the kyuubi's presence. Do that and nothing you strive for will be beyond your grasp."
Naruto frowned. "Why the hell are you telling me that?"
"It's why I said it was better for you to have your mother's nose than mine." The leader of Akatsuki smiled lopsidedly—fondly—at him. Hanging in the air was a sad and deep but unspoken affection, one he clearly did not dare to reveal lest it be thrown back into his face by Naruto's anger. "I'm proud of you. Take care of yourself."
Naruto was not even able to so much as open his mouth before the influential man was gone from his sight and his life, perhaps for the last time. Not certain he had really heard what he thought he had, he looked up at Kakashi. "His . . . His nose . . .?"
The jounin nodded solemnly. "He felt then—and probably still does—that he had no right to ask others to sacrifice their children if he was not willing to do the same first."
The teenager felt distinctly betrayed by his field instructor's silence on the subject. "Why the hell didn't you ever tell me any of this?! Or old man Sandaime?! Whether my father was alive or dead, what good would it do to keep it a secret?! All I wanted was to know I had a family—it didn't matter if they were all dead!"
Kakashi remained steady. The blond's aggression was far more typical than it was any sort of surprise. "First of all, I knew absolutely nothing about you or him being part of a kekkei genkai, so I claim immunity on that issue before we even get to that part. Second, obviously, it was safer for you if no one knew. He had many enemies and they would have been more than happy to bear that grudge against a helpless infant once he was gone. That aside, why should we have even told you? I understand your desire for a family, but could you really have handled living in his shadow? Why do you think Sandaime and I—and Jiraiya-sama, for that matter—demanded so much from you so quickly? We knew and we saw him in you, and we wanted to prove to you and to ourselves that you had that skill to be at least as great as he was, if not better. You probably can't even tell that it happened because we've done it since the moment you were old enough to learn."
"If that's true, why the hell did you pass me up for Sasuke during the chuunin exams?"
"Maybe you hadn't noticed," Kakashi responded, "but I was the only person in the village who could teach him about the Sharingan. Just because I didn't openly agonize about which of you I was going to train doesn't mean I didn't at all."
"I didn't realize the Chidori was a Sharingan technique," Naruto hissed scathingly.
Kakashi resisted the strong urge to punch the blond in the head. It would definitely have had an effect, but not the desired one. "That was hardly the only thing I taught him, even if he never had the opportunity to display them all. Actually, though, you should still remember them after the fight you had with him." It was an extremely low blow, but it got the point across. "Do you think I'm cheerful about the fact that he misused everything I taught him in that time? He nearly killed you, and just thirteen years before I had promised—I had sworn—that I would watch out for you. If he had done it, it would have been the same as if I had struck the blow myself. And . . ." He sighed. "I don't want you to die. You're all I have left."
Sobered by the unusual admission, Naruto gazed around at the emptied chamber silently and then, confused by the conflicting signals he had been receiving from his heart and mind and unsure as to how he should actually feel, he blurted in frustration, "DAMN IT!" Relaxed by the pointless and angry outburst, he murmured much more quietly, ". . . What should I do?"
"Study your bloodline and learn," Kakashi advised. "It may still be possible for him to find out what will happen to you, whether or not he returns, and it would ease him to know you don't need the kyuubi to be strong."
Naruto rubbed his stomach where the seal had once been, the sting of which was finally beginning to fade as promised, and wondered if he really owed the once-Hokage—father or not—anything short of a beating for the hell his life had started as and then degenerated further into. Following a long consideration, he felt a satisfied smirk pull at the corner of his mouth.
No matter what it might or might not do for the Fourth's conscience, time manipulation did sound like an interesting alternative to the kyuubi. If the Fourth was able to return, then Naruto would decide on a reaction to his presence. For the time being there were far too many questions and not nearly enough answers; explanations would have to come from the Fourth himself rather than a half-informed third party. Also, Naruto decided that if he learned the abilities thoroughly enough—ones that, as a kekkei genkai, could not be copied even with hand seals to see—he could without a doubt kick Sasuke's pasty-pale ass straight back to Konoha. After all, the Sharingan could 'predict' the future, but could it reshape the past?
"Let's go home, Kakashi-sensei. I have sixteen years of work to catch up on."
Timeserver has concluded.
Timespan triad and Timesaver quadrilogy to be continued . . .
Answers To Questions You Didn't Even Know You Wanted To Ask:
There are a lot of questions. Some of them are ones we should all know but that I've included in case someone who's new to things is reading. Others are ones I want to explain in future installments (more on that later), but that I can't fit into this work without rambling (or that you all will remember to look for by the time I can address them). Arguably, at least some of the technique names do not exactly apply as I describe them—'Seihen' from the next part is a good example—so be wary of repeating any of these words under the belief that my definition is the only one. It isn't.
Is the title a reference to the Fourth?
Yes. It's also obviously not a nice thing to call somebody. However, this is what Naruto undoubtedly considers the Fourth to be at this point.
What is a 'kasa'?
A bamboo hat, generally used to deflect sun and some rain. That's probably not the only word for it, but it's one.
There's one member of Akatsuki missing?
Technically, yes. Once upon a time, Orochimaru was with Akatsuki, bringing their numbers to ten. He eventually left to pursue his own ego, and has never been replaced.
What is a 'bijuu'?
A bijuu is a 'tailed beast.' There are nine of them, each with a different number of tails.
What is 'Hiraishin'?
Hiraishin is short for Hiraishin no Jutsu (Flying Thunder God Technique), which is the Yondaime's signature move and the one that earned him the nickname 'Yellow Flash.' Hiraishin no Jutsu is not—I repeat, is not—the Shunshin no Jutsu, the Body Flicker. Hiraishin and Shunshin are two totally different techniques, in ranking and execution. That said, I have heard the Hiraishin referred to as the Shunshin in the Kakashi Gaiden, but as that observation was made by a genin—Rin, to be specific—it could be argued to be a mistake of inexperience or ignorance (since it's highly unlikely ninja speak freely about their techniques).
What is 'Kokontouzai'?
Kokontouzai means 'all times and places.' Basically, it's a technique allowing the user to alter the passage of time for an individual(s) so as to move to any location (or multiple locations) in a way that appears far faster than it actually is. Since it is the Hiraishin no Jutsu and I've simply twisted canon for my own devious purposes, it is a supplementary S-rank technique that covers all ranges.
Why did the Fourth put pins in his nose?
To keep the cartilage straight.
Could a woman really fight an hour after giving birth?
Probably not, unless the situation was horribly desperate, and even then it would hardly be much of a fight. I know I wouldn't want to (I'd turn over and ask them for more epidurals, please). I'm banking on sheer will and shinobi training that would deal with pain reduction/ignoring techniques, though. They must do training for that at least a little, and I think it could be applied to labor and delivery.
What is 'Kokugen'?
Kokugen means 'appointed time.' It allows the user to see the various outcomes of an event in the past or present when the user suggests a person and a chosen possibility relating to that event. The technique is far from conclusive; it shows only the outcomes and not the mechanics that led to those outcomes. If the user is not specific enough in the event, person, and/or possibility, the potential outcomes are virtually limitless and nearly impossible to sort through. The outcomes also rely completely on the completeness of the user's knowledge of the person and event in question, so any error in either or both of those could result in a totally unexpected and unseen outcome in reality. This is a passive C-rank technique with no calculable range.
How old is Naruto?
Sixteen, as stated in the last sentence of the piece.
Where is Sakura?
Not with Kakashi and Naruto.
Where is Sasuke?
I, personally, hope he's dead.
Why isn't anyone else with Naruto and Kakashi?
I'm cheap and I didn't want to have to deal with trying to rationalize anybody who's not actually 'in the circle,' if you get me.
Why pick Time as a kekkei genkai?
Because I've heard of few—in canon or fandom—who made use of it, primarily, and I wanted to try it out. There are the time-space techniques like the Hiraishin and Kamui, but no bloodline devoted to it.
Is there a sequel?
Several. Timeserver is part one of the Timespan triad and the Timesaver quadrilogy. The second part of the Timespan triad and Timesaver quadrilogy is Timescale. The final part of the Timespan triad and third part of the Timesaver quadrilogy is Timekeeper. The fourth and final part of the Timesaver quadrilogy is the multi-chapter Naruto/Okami crossover fic Time Frame.
What's up with the triad/quadrilogy thing if they're all related?
Timeserver, Timescale, and Timekeeper are a triad rather than a trilogy because Time Frame is part of the same universe and I figured it would be confusing to have a trilogy within a quadrilogy. That's the simple explanation, for anyone who's in a hurry.
Timeserver, Timescale, and Timekeeper are linked to each other through one event: the Fourth Hokage correcting his mistake of sealing the kyuubi into Naruto. That fact has minimal bearing on the events of Time Frame, but to best understand Time Frame a reader would ideally read Timeserver, Timescale, and Timekeeper first. The Timespan triad is actually a three-shot that I wanted to keep together, but I couldn't pick only one of the three titles to represent all three shots because each title is important. I decided instead to give them a cover title, but they're more removed from Time Frame than they are from each other and the Timesaver title applies to all four pieces equally. As a result, I couldn't restrict the Timesaver title to the triad, so I isolated them further. Since the triad is indeed centered around one event, Timespan is actually a more appropriate cover title anyway.
This is my logic. Don't try to stop me.
You know how good milk comes from happy cows, and happy cows come from California? Well, good stories come from happy authors, and happy authors come from reviews. So, please review.